Informed Consent in Patients With Frailty Syndrome

Informed Consent in Patients With Frailty Syndrome
Brendan Silbert, David Scott
Anesthesia & Analgesia, June 2020; 130(6) pp 1474–1481
Frailty is present in more than 30% of individuals older than 65 years of age presenting for anesthesia and surgery, and poses a number of unique issues in the informed consent process. Much attention has been directed at the increased incidence of poor outcomes in these individuals, including postoperative mortality, complications, and prolonged length of stay. These material risks are not generally factored into conventional risk predictors, so it is likely that individuals with frailty are never fully informed of the true risk for procedures undertaken in the hospital setting. While the term “frailty” has the advantage of alerting to risk and allowing appropriate care and interventions, the term has the social disadvantage of encouraging objectivity to ageism. This may encourage paternalistic behavior from carers and family encroaching on self-determination and, in extreme cases, manifesting as coercion and compromising autonomy. There is a high prevalence of neurocognitive disorder in frail elderly patients, and care must be taken to identify those without capacity to provide informed consent; equally important is to not exclude those with capacity from providing consent. Obtaining consent for research adds an extra onus to that of clinical consent. The informed consent process in the frail elderly poses unique challenges to the busy clinical anesthesiologist. At the very least, an increased time commitment should be recognized. The gap between theoretical goals and actual practice of informed consent should be acknowledged.

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